Emotional Support and Validation

A main purpose of this blog is to help spread knowledge about mental health and related topics in hopes it can be helpful to someone out there. I was given the advice to start out writing something on different categories of mental health difficulties, and the first one that came up was trauma.

One of my observations (as a clinical psychologist) is that we, the public, tend to think of trauma as something in the realm of a wartime experience or physical/sexual abuse. This idea is personified in the hilarious octopus from Disney’s Finding Dory who alleges to have undergone “terrible experiences” in the open ocean. Of course, certain experiences are obviously traumatic due to their extreme and difficult nature. However, there are other forms of highly distressing emotional experiences that can, over time, lead to mental health difficulties. Without a broader understanding of the clinical meaning of the word trauma, people may be unable to identify their own experiences and symptoms as needing clinical attention. As a result, people might deprive themselves of mental health treatment, perhaps leading to adverse outcomes for themselves, their loved ones, and societies at large.

On that light note…let’s keep going ?

When talking about trauma, it is important to note that what can be experienced as extremely distressing (or traumatic) for one person may not be the same for another person. Still, in my clinical opinion, a more balanced view of trauma includes the experience of a chronic lack in emotional validation. Emotional validation, sometimes called mirroring, starts at birth, and is provided foremost by main caregivers (Kohut, 1987). Emotional support and validation (for a human being) comes from many sources in addition to parental figures, including siblings, peer groups, and the school/social/ cultural/economic systems at play (Bronfenbrenner, 2005).

Often, when there is a significant lapse in emotional support and validation, disadvantageous coping styles can develop to deal with the experienced loss or need for support. Something interesting is that without any intervention, these coping styles can pass on through generations in families (Wolyn, 2016). Have you ever noticed how certain emotional coping styles seem to survive the test of time? For instance, the tendency to shut down, to avoid, or to attack? It should come as no surprise, then, that unresolved stress related to lapses in emotional validation are one of the many reasons people find the holidays stressful.

In closing, it is my opinion that many people have trauma related disorders because of continuous and enduring lapses in emotional validation from relevant figures. With the holidays ramping up, it is important for all of us to take care of ourselves and our emotions. One starting point might be acknowledging that humans are wired to require a certain amount of emotional validation. Further, when there are significant lapses in emotional validation from important and/or multiple sources, people can develop unhealthy ways of coping with life’s challenges. If you think you or a loved one might need help healing from damages related to loss of emotional validation, reach out to a therapist for help.

These are some symptoms commonly experienced by people who have experienced a chronic lapse in validation.

  • Getting easily agitated
  • Feeling flooded by emotion
  • Being overly aware of the environment (hypervigilance)
  • Scanning the environment
  • Behaving in a way that is self-destructive or that leads to poor outcomes
  • Being highly defensive
  • Feeling like you are on auto pilot
  • Being “jumpy”
  • Having difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Having difficulty with organization
  • Difficulty with sleep
  • Trying to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings related to negative aspects of the past
  • Having bad dreams about or related to an obvious trauma
  • Feeling like you have constant memories from the past that are intrusive or unwanted
  • Being distressed when seeing or hearing certain environmental “triggers”
  • Changing lifestyle or behaviors in order to avoid people, places, events, etc
  • Inability to remember certain aspects of past difficult periods
  • Feeling guilty or blaming self for any trauma and/or being unrealistic about the way something happened
  • Feeling detached or estranged from others or the world
  • Not being able to feel positive emotions (such as joy, hope, pride, happiness, excitement, etc.)


Baker, H., Baker, M. (1987). Heinz Kohut’s Self Psychology: An Overview. The American Journal Of Psychiatry, January, 114:1.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development. Sage.

Wolyn, M. (2016). It Didn’t Start With You. Penguin.